Even during the leanest of years, Illinois football tends to produce quality running backs who are recognized throughout the Big Ten conference and the nation.
When Reggie Love committed to Illinois as the first member of the 2019 recruiting class, the Illini run game was spearheaded by All-Big Ten back Reggie Corbin. After Corbin, Chase Brown emerged over the next three seasons to become arguably the best Illinois running back since Rashard Mendenhall. All the while, Love patiently played his role and did what was asked of him, while showing flashes of his talent along the way.
I specifically remember seeing this play in the 2022 season opener and thinking that his unique combination of strength and football IQ would serve him well as an eventual lead back.
This play against the Iowa Hawkeyes took it to another level. Not only does it demonstrate Love’s intelligence and strength, but also his speed and vision. Here he saw a gap and basically outran one of the best defenses in college football last year for a first down.
And this one was just ridiculous. Yes, I do wonder if the Northwestern Wildcats simply wanted the season to end at this point, but he still dragged three defenders and broke their tackles for a big gain.
Now, through three games, Reggie Love paces all Illini rushers with 163 rushing yards and an average of 5.1 yards per carry. He’s back doing the same things he did in years’ past, and he’s poised for even more.
Love’s new nickname couldn’t be more appropriate. He’s been a bulldozer since he arrived in Champaign, but now he’s only now putting his full skillset on display as Illinois’ featured running back.
It didn’t have to be this way either. He could’ve passed on Illinois out of high school and gone to any of other schools that offered him like the Wisconsin Badgers, Penn State Nittany Lions, or Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Or he could’ve entered the transfer portal and followed his high school coach, Cory Patterson, to West Lafayette at the end of last season.
But instead he chose Illinois, then stayed with Illinois, and now he’s primed for a memorable season as the next great Illini running back. I think I speak for Illini fans everywhere when I say that I can’t wait to see what more he can accomplish in Champaign both this year and beyond.